one of my 48th birthday presents

one of my 48th birthday presents

Something very different in this blog and also very long. I accidentally stumbled across a curtailed version of ‘July in New Zealand’. It is the last, partial chapter of the book entitled Four go to New Zealand. I hadn’t realise until a few days ago I’d missed out July from this ‘book’ (see right hand column of this blog), possibly because it was incomplete. I idly started to read through it and, not for the first time, thought, hmm, this is not bad. So I’ve decided to share it with you. At 20 plus pages (16 times longer in fact) it is much longer than a ‘normal’ blog (I’ve forgotten how to ‘do’ pages on WordPress), so you may choose not to bother.

The thing that struck me reading it was that how inaccurate the fantasy about what a great time we had there, actually was. It was tough even though we had some great times and developed an affection for the place that has lasted all these years. But when it comes to that all to common feeling in retirement about how much better things were in our lives when we were working and indeed working abroad, something we did three times in our careers, this ‘chapter’ and the other ones in the drop-down menu under the title at the top of the blog, proves life was not necessarily grand in those days. If you do like what you read you may want to go back to the other chapters in order to understand some of the references and please forgive any typos, it’s not easy to scan hard copy and then have to correct the many errors that scanning brings with it. By the way some of the references are inevitably a bit dated and there is a little swearing which I decided not to edit.

July: Deep Midwinter

Monday, July 1st

New Zealand schools have, for the first time this year, gone to a four term school year. Teachers seem to like it and at this point I like it too. I like it a lot. It makes today the first day of the mid-year holidays. To continue the list of firsts we have rented our first New Zealand bach (pronounced batch). One of the all time great Kiwi institutions, a bach is a small holiday home by the sea or by the lake. The low price of land and building has made the bach far more available to the average Kiwi citizen than the country cottage has ever been or is likely to be for the average Brit. Everybody knows somebody who has a bach, in this case we had a choice of two and have chosen the closest one owned by friends of Di, Jamie and Nicki Frecklington. So thank you to them. It is situated at Hatepe which is on the Eastern shore of Lake Taupo about three hours drive north of Palmerston. It will, we hope, be an ideal place to reflect on the year so far and look forward to the next six months. It will certainly be nice to get out of the house because, whilst the day is bright and sunny, the atmosphere in the house is decidedly chilly on account of Mick and Kate having had another barney about unmentionable things last night.

Kate has decided that she cannot ask for time off and so Mick cannot accompany us and so therefore neither will Joe, at least not for the whole of the four days we are going to be away. He will take the bus up on Wednesday. Ellen reckons that this is the first time the two of us have been away together since last August when we stayed in some friends’ cottage in Middleton in Teesdale for three days. To celebrate this new found togetherness before we leave we prat about taking Kate to work, buying two warm shirts we probably didn’t need, popping into the office and visiting the library to add to the 22 books we already have. I wanted the book written by Heather Heberley about life in the Marlborough Sounds, they don’t have it, the lady at the library says she finds this difficult to believe and so do I. A country of book borrowers, who love books particularly about New Zealand and they haven’t ordered or had a request to order one of the most popular books in the last few months. Very puzzling. Anyway I digress, as a consequence of all this messing about it is after 12 when we leave Palmy and as we drive North through the beautiful countryside that becomes the Rangitikei valley we bicker. The weather is still beautiful, contrary to the forecast, and I complain that we should have set off earlier rather than pissing about, conveniently ignoring the fact that I have done a good percentage of said pissing about. However as we drive along the New Zealand countryside works its charm and we unite in harmony. Truth be told we do have another quick bicker as we drive along the ‘desert road ‘and Ruapehu comes into view, well we argue about whether it is Ruapehu. “look at the bleedin’ map”‘ I suggest, “or shall I drive and look at the map?” Ellen shows me her two fingers and says, “you see these?” Well you know the rest I’m sure. We decide it is Ruapehu even though, at this point, it does not seem to be emitting any steam, smoke or ash but then it is difficult to tell with its top, for the most part covered in cloud. We then have another bicker about videoing the mountain, but it turns out, after I have seriously questioned Ellen’s ability to use any mechanical object, that I have brought the wrong cassette, i.e. an already used one rather than a blank, so the conversation becomes somewhat academic. We settle for a couple of still photographs. With the sun shining on the snow/ash the mountain does look great and our bickering lasts only a short while.

The bicker count reduced we descend from the Central Plateau to the Southern shores of Lake Taupo. What is known about the lake is that it is the largest lake in New Zealand at 239 square miles, that it is 1,210’ above sea level and that it was created by a massive volcanic explosion (I’m glad we weren’t around for that one). What is unknown about Taupo is how deep it is, which is quite nice, and how you pronounce it which is confusing and therefore not so nice. Because it is a Maori word, the correct pronunciation is Toe poor, Maoris and the PC people pronounce it thus. The pakeha, white, European population have been brought up to call it Taupo (as in Audi. Even the news channels seem confused, TVI calls it Taupo (Audi) and TV3 calls it Toe poor, I’ve no idea what TV2, which could hold the casting vote, calls it. What is clear is that you clearly mark your sociological perspective by how you pronounce the word. Being the gutless bastards we are we usually try and wait and see how the other people we are talking to say it and then copy that. Jolly difficult though when husband and wife pronounce it differently as is the case with Mike and Marianne. Given that most pakeha seem quite content to give other Maori names their correct pronunciation eg. Whangerei begins with a ‘f’ not a ‘w’. Mount Egmont seems to be called correctly most often by its Maori name- Mount Taranaki, so why Taupo excites such controversy I couldn’t say.

As part of my extensive holiday reading choice I have taken out a book by our very own Austin Mitchell called ‘The Half Gallon Quarter inch Pavlova Paradise’ published in 1972 after Austin, who had spent some time at the university of Otago, had left for England . I have set myself this year not to take large chunks of the Kiwi experience from the books of others but rather to read the same number of books that I would normally do. It is in that spirit that I read Austin Mitchell’s book. Incidentally my memory of him is a politician of little substance appearing only to talk about MPs on TV and the lot of fishermen in Grimsby. I can’t remember which Woody Allen film was described by the critics as his little cup of poison but this seems, so far at least, Page 95) to be Austin’s literary equivalent. New Zealand, he tells us, is a uniform, egalitarian society, there’s no natural diversity and minorities are too small to stand out (not any longer mate). ‘Even the 9% who happen to be Maori don’t break the uniformity. Most are brown New Zealanders.. Their traditional leaders make Uncle Tom look like Eldridge Cleaver.’ That’s a very cleaver line Austin, written from the safety of dear old England but basically unhelpful and ultimately inaccurate. Austin became a bit of an Uncle Tom himself of the Labour Party. Meanwhile Maori are asserting their right to ‘stand out’ and the hoo ha about Taupo, Toepoor or, our own unintentional version, Torpo, stands testimony to this.

More basic considerations confront us as we arrive at the bach. Two plastic bagfulls of rubbish can go an awful long way. Cans, egg boxes, egg shells, spaggetti, bottles, plastic containers and one contraceptive all strewn across the ‘drive’, greet us. About 20/30 cans and only one jump seems a poor ratio. Putting this thought on one side we clean up the drive and then enter the bach. This is a bach in the old tradition, nothing fancy, creosoted wood and white window frames. It was originally rectangular in shape but, given the Kiwi love for DIY, bits – toilets, extra bedrooms and so on have been added over the years. Inside it is decorated in the style beloved of all old and proper bachs. The first thing you notice is an interesting carpet or rather carpets, followed by a couple of rotten chairs, an old armchair and a sofa bed that wouldn’t make it into the Habitat catalogue. There are blue folding chairs and a variety of tables, cupboards and of course beds, enough to sleep 15 people in all. There are games, the usual Trivial Pursuits, Monopoly, cards and many National Geographic dating from 1936. There aren’t many books apart from a few on wind-surfing. The one, rather surprising, proper book is ‘Violet to Vita: the letters of Violet Trefusis to Vita Sackville-West.’ A book about elitist lesbians in the early part of the 20th century in England and Europe seems vaguely at odds with the rustic splendour of our holiday home. The fridge and microwave are in the bathroom and the sink is in the hall. There is no TV or phone. What there is is a wood-burning stove that will, during our time here, prove to be the source of so much pleasure and smoke. All exactly as it should be in the Kiwi bach by the shore. By the shore it certainly is or on it, to be accurate. The bach was constructed before the legislation known as the King’s Chain which means, as you might guess, that no building can now be built closer than a chain (22 yards?) to the sea or lake shore anywhere in New Zealand. This bach is about 12 yards from the beach and about 25 from the water’s edge. There is a notice on the wall that tells us about the by-laws and regulations governing the disposal of rubbish (it doesn’t say strew it across the drive), use of water, electricity and so on. It also tells us that the land is the ancestral home of the Morehu family and should be respected as such. If this were a timeshare cottage in Britain and the notice said this land belongs to Lord Dimley-Bollocks and should be respected as such, we would probably think, self-important bastard, who does he thick he is and then scatter rubbish all over his drive. No such evil thoughts pass through my head. We look out the large front windows which look straight out across the lake. It is a beautiful spot. We are, as they say, well pleased.

Is it possible to recreate the perfect moment or once it’s gone is it gone for ever? Ellen and I watched it go dark over the lake, the last rays of the sun light up the hills on the opposite side of the water, the fire crackles merrily in the grate (or they do in England anyway) and the first Kenny Gee track wafts out of the one mod con the bach has, a stereo system. Perfection? No, not quite, I haven’t got a drink. Hold the sunset, replay Kenny and get me a drink of red wine, quick. We just make it, arm in arm staring and sighing out across the darkening waters. Dangerously perfect.

Later as I lie in bed I listen more carefully to the waves on the shore. The waves on the lake shore sound different to those on the seashore. They go plat, plat, plat at about second intervals rather than splatiiissshhh at two or three second intervals as the sea does. I reckon you cam carry this literary stuff too far, as I stand taking my last pee of the evening I listen to the lake flopping against the shore and the following sentence came into my mind, as I listened to the sound of the lake against the shore to this cacophony I added my own, the sound of my water crashing against the porcelain. Well maybe crashing isn’t quite the word. Time for bed.

Tuesday 2nd

The cold tries to rip off my face, I am mugged by the cold this morning. It was cold last night. This is a place where you put the milk in the fridge to stop it from freezing and you go outside to get warm. No matter this is all part of the charm. We have spent 12 hours in bed from 9 until 9. We got up had some breakfast and then we read and in the most energetic part of the day I typed and I have my usual fantasy about being a great travel writer. Ellen draws the view out of the window and she becomes Georgia O’Keefe. Ah the solitude, the simplicity, nature in the raw, the purity of life alone. At about one o’ clock we’ve had enough of all this solitude crap, we’ve developed cabin fever (so calling into question my often stated view that I could live out in the country in splendid isolation and see nobody). In this case seeing nobody lasted for about 18 hours.

We drove into Taupo to have a look around and before we knew it we found ourselves in this Italian restaurant cafe having a late lunch. We eat three types of bread one stuffed with bacon and camembert, the other with vegetables and the third with salami, tomatoes and onions. All washed down by a nice cheap bottle of red wine. The whole bill comes to $30.25 (of which the wine was $16.95) and is completely delicious. There I go with my food writing vocabulary again. In order to kick start our bodies into life we walk along the lake side, it is definitely fresh, in fact it is bloody freezing, and after about twenty minutes we decide we are suitably refreshed and we drive back to the bach. I keep telling myself that I said I would use this time for reflection on how the year had gone to the halfway mark, but it all seems like too much of an effort, as does typing this bloody diary. I abandon my search for the truth and in the words of Ashley Brilliant settle for a good fantasy. We listen to Corelli’s 12 Concerti Grossi Opus No.6 and read but after a while even this proves too strenuous and we fall asleep, listening to the waves breaking on the shore and watching the fire. We have settled on the best name for this place, it should be called Lake Torpour as in stupour or langour. This is because we find it so easy to do almost nothing.

When we awake we feel the need for intellectual stimulation and so we play Trivial Pursuits. The game goes OK for a while but then we get a little bored and because we cannot eat until we have finished we try and speed things up by giving each other clues. The most ludicrous of which was in response to the question ‘what is the traditional name for Wellington Harbour?’ remember this is the New Zealand version of TP, the answer is Port Nicholson, not a hope in hell of Ellen getting this one, so I give her a clue which runs as follows. Me: the first word is Port and the second word is the surname of a well-known American film actor whose first name is Jack. Ellen: Palance? Me: Port Palance, no. Ellen: Lemmon? Me: Lemon? Ellen: Yes, like Port and lemon? Me: No. What about Nicholson? Ellen: got it, Port Nicholson. Me: that’s right. And in this fashion we finish the game and Ellen wins, a fact I am unlikely to be allowed to forget. We eat and drink some more and then we finish off the day with a little singsong, yes I have even remembered to bring my guitar. We go to bed with only the slightest apprehension at the starlit night. I think it is going to be cold again.

Wednesday 3rd

There is no condensation running down our bedroom windows this morning. No siree and the reason is that it is frozen solid and not going anywhere. It is so cold this morning that I cannot think of any more analogies for what the cold is doing to me. I try reading in bed for a while but when my nose and the one hand I am using to hold the book fail to respond to a lighted match held underneath them I know that amputation is imminent so l give in and join Ellen in the somewhat warmer living room where she is attempting to set a world record for a yoga session with the most clothes on. I finish reading Austin Mitchell’s book. It has one or two good lines -Necrophilia, a dying art? but on the whole it is altogether too artful, like somebody who has lived in New Zealand trying desperately to show how much too good he was for the country. This persistent artfulness becomes more important than any point he has to make about the place. How anybody can write a book about Kiwis and not mention their driving habits and consider themselves insightful is beyond me. What does strike me about the book is how much New Zealand has presumably changed since 1972. You could not write a book generalising about the whole of the population today, it is a far more disparate place than it apparently was in ’72. I’m probably just jealous although you could hardly say that Austin has set the political world alight since retiring from NZ and so far this holiday there has been a distinct absence of insightful thoughts from me. I just don’t understand it, every other travel writer seems to sit by the side of a beautiful lake like this and be moved to write great things. Me I can’t bleedin’ well be bothered.

Joe has joined us. This in itself is something of a miracle. First, the desert road has been closed by snow. That’s the road we came along between Palmy and Taupo. The desert road is closed by snow that has an exotic ring to it and a puzzling one, you might not expect a desert to get snow, but in winter this one does even though, I imagine, overall it does not get enough rainfall to miss being classified as a desert. Anyway, the closed road didn’t stop him, the bus, it took a longer route. More mundane matters nearly did. He was supposed to get off the bus at Hatepe which is 15 minutes before Taupo. He had asked the bus driver to let him know when the bus got to the stop. Unfortunately he does not hear the bus driver call his stop because he is wearing his Walkman. It is only when Ellen gets onto the bus and drags him off that he avoids journeying on to Taupo. He looks round the bach with disbelief. All that seemed so quaint and fitting to us just looks like a pile of second hand furniture in a wooden shack. “What is this?” he sneers and is unimpressed by the response “a Bach.” Are there any girls around here?” is his second question. He is unimpressed by my response which was in the affirmative, the beach has been full of 8 and 9 year olds. “Funny dad,” “I do hope you are not going to start complaining,” I say with all the lightness I can manage. But he has already moved on to other critical teenage matters. He has left his walkman case and tape on the bus well the case on one bus and the tape on the second bus to be precise. “Life sucks,” he says. I feel the lightness of being slip away and the weight of my teenage monster descend upon me

As I had promised myself I take a little time away from this domestic drama and consider how, at the half way stage, I feel about our time here. First, I score how successful I have been in achieving my key values. Scores out of 10 are as follows – to experience newness/difference – 7. Relaxation – 5. Learning – 8. Friendships – 7. Beauty – 6. When I did the same exercise at the three month point the total was 31, now the total is 33, so we are moving slowly in the right direction. Individually the scores work out thus – newness/difference has dropped a point, inevitable given that the place and people feel more familiar as the year moves on. Relaxation, well New Zealand is not proving the relaxing oasis of peace and tranquillity I had hoped. I am not the completely different, laid-back kind of guy I had hoped for, but I do feel one point more relaxed than in March, but some way to go here. I am pleased with the learning side of the job, I’ve been on some courses and read a fair bit and generally developed my professional skills, so at least a one point improvement here, maybe even 2 but I’ve scored it conservatively at an 8. Friendships, another 1 point increase here, the social side of things has definitely picked up, we go out more but I couldn’t truly say that we’ve made anymore friends but we have cemented, if that is the right word, our relationships with Mike and Marianne and Mike and Anne. We should clearly be looking only for people called Mike and where the second name contains the name Anne. I don’t think this means that the man has to be called Mike, it could be the woman and the chap could have an Anne in his name. If John Wayne real name was Marion then anything is possible. Finally, the experience of beauty, I’m not sure why I have dropped this a point, perhaps it is something to do with becoming more familiar and therefore casual about the New Zealand countryside.

So not too bad with the scores on the doors. The other aspect of this half-yearly Kiwi review was to reflect upon those things Ellen and I had achieved and those we had not. Some of my targets (I am a great target-setter if not target achiever) have been partially achieved, some almost completely and some not at all, so I will stick with my marks out of 10 assessment. Play cricket – 7, Go sailing – 4; Learn to play the guitar-5; Have golf lessons – 6; Have squash lessons – 5; Play squash -2; Get fit – 0; Take up painting – 1; Pursue sports psychology – 3; Travel – 8; Ellen’s garden design – 2, Taking new yoga classes – 7; Getting a new interesting job – 8. I never did expect that New Zealand would transform me, my life and family and it hasn’t. I’ve done some things we wouldn’t have done back home, we all have, but there’s plenty more things to go at. At some stage I need to take a careful look at what we want to achieve in the rest of the year. But right now I can’t be bothered, we’re going out for a meal, the three of us, that should be interesting. It was, but for the wrong reasons.

Thursday 4th

I am so ashamed, yet another restaurant to which we may not return. Last night was not shall we say, perfection. In all truth this one is not a great loss. An Italian restaurant (obviously not the same one as Monday) apparently run by Brits, not a happy union I would have thought. So it proved. I choose a dish they have, for some reason, called Marco, purportedly Scotch Fillet Steak covered in mushrooms and crispy bacon accompanied by vegetables of the day. I know this meal can be nice because I have had it before, but this version was, as Michael Winner might say, crap. The fillet was chewy and overcooked and basically not fillet, the mushrooms were used to cover this fact. The bacon was not crispy, the vegetables turned out to be boiled potatoes (just like my grandma used to cook them), a bit of broccoli to add a touch of the exotic, carrots. The pizzas were better apart from the fact that they had no mozzarella and no tomato, pizzas a la Brit, yummy. So the fact that I, allegedly, shouted across the restaurant that quote “I did not give a flying fuck whether he (Joe) listened to me or not,” was probably inappropriate but understandable given the stress I was under trying to eat my fillet (sic) steak.

So the meal was not good but what was depressing even more than the food is the awful, inevitable, cyclic nature of the whole tiresome affair. It goes as follows- Step 1: Dad, can I have… Insert word of choice – new clothes, shoes, CD, in this case it is drivers licence. (you know a request for something is coming because of unnatural tone of voice) . Step 2, Me: if you gave something to the family, then you would be more likely to be given when you ask. Step 3, Hmm: here we go again, I’m selfish, I never do anything da da. Step 4, Me: well unfortunately it is true, you are selfish. Step 5, Him: well so are you. Step 6, Me: well in that case why don’t you take after your mother instead of me, she isn’t selfish. Step 7, Him: Why should I have to change? Why don’t you change? Step 8, Me: because it is you that wants something, not me. Step 9, Him: a sneer, exhales breath through nostrils and looks at me in a way that says you really are the scum of the earth aren’t you! Sure, same old story. Step 10, Me :(with perhaps rather more vigour than was absolutely necessary) Listen I don’t give a flying..well you know the rest. Step 11, leave restaurant before being asked to leave, with vague feeling that I have failed as a parent yet again.

That was last night and as usual the ‘interaction’ fills my head when I wake up. This is always my worst part of any argument, not at the time, not before I go to sleep on the same day but the next morning, that’s when I find it hard to control my thoughts/guilt. I set aside my guilt and proceed with the day. As is often the case the day goes along pretty normally despite this rather shoddy beginning. We sit on the veranda and eat breakfast, it is bright and sunny again, we read, play Albert Tatlock, play and abandon a game of Trivial Pursuits. Ellen and I go and look at Huka Falls, impressive they are worth a visit if you’re ever in this part of the world. They’re not as remarkable as the woman in KFC with no shoes on. This is one thing you will notice about Kiwis is that they have a tendency to walk around bare foot, fair enough but this is the middle of winter and I think I may already have mentioned that it is bloody cold here. Just what is this woman trying to prove buying junk food with no shoes or socks and a tattoo on her ankle. I can tell her legs are cold because they are shaved and look like chicken’s legs. For a moment I am almost put off the idea of eating KFC.

Friday 5th

It is time to leave, it is not emotion welling up in my throat but the smoke. We found the stove quaint at first but it is now giving me a sore throat. Was it Jack Kerouac who wrote a book called ‘The Joys of the Open Fire’? Who knows. I don’t think Jack ever said whether he was greatly influenced by National Geographic but I certainly was as a child. They led me down another path to that which I currently tred in Kiwiland, but that is another story. In an effort to have a last relax after packing a house full of luggage into a small car and before setting off on the open road I take a last look at the National Geographics. The bach’s National Geographics of the 30s and 40s provide a nice contrast to Joe’s ‘Loaded’ magazine. Set against ‘The Maine American and the American Lobster’, ‘Men, Moose and Mink of Northwest Angle’ and Hummingbirds in Action’ adverts for Bell and Howell cine cameras, Western Union and Coca Cola, we have articles on swearing, stripping, drinking and Chris Tarrant and adverts for pornography, Durex and football hooliganism videos. Once again I wonder what kind of impression folk get of us from the magazines and newspapers we send to them.

So this is the last day at the bach. Why does it give me as much pleasure to collect our belongings from all corners of the house and load them into the car, so removing all trace of our existence as it did to spread our stuff all over the place when we arrived. The bach, a symbol of togetherness, of family, of relaxation and warm, long sunny summer days, of harmony by the water. We managed some of these some of the time. In the end this place did not quite have enough harmony to cope with the Galvins as a threesome but then not many places do. I like the water but I reckon that a lake suffers from the disadvantage of being hemmed in making it a rather sad body of water ultimately, it knows and we know that it isn’t going anywhere and I think this makes for just an element of contempt that ultimately undermines the quality of the relationship. Like, who are you to tell me to relax, you’re pretty sad, you’ve been here all your life, what do you know of the world to tell me how to behave? As CR James said what do they of cricket know who only of cricket know?’ Wise words I think you’ll agree and a clear sign that we need to get out of here. But my point is a fair one, in terms of relaxation, the order is the sea, a river and a lake. It needs to move you see. And so do we and so we do. Pausing only for a quick argument before we leave. The drive back ‘home’, for such is how it appears at this point is uneventful and we arrive in Palmy after about 2 hours 45 minutes.

Why is it so important that when you have been away to rush back to the structure of what you left behind? Why is it that we can’t wait to see friends, or visit the local, to run the yoga class? A few beers with my old mate Smashy at the Railway would be just what the doctor ordered, alas he is not in and I drink alone, 2 pints at The Railway and then over to see Kate at Orleans for a couple more. She seems genuinely pleased to see me and shows her pleasure by introducing me to somebody I shall call Bill. He kicks off the conversation by asking if Kate and I come from the same part of the country and I tell him, rather wittily I thought, that we come from the same house. My subtle wit does not bring the hearty guffaws I thought it deserved but then I realise that this is not Bill’s style because he is, he tells me immediately, a funeral director. I don’t know whether he is going on somewhere or whether he always wears a blazer and tie when eating at Orleans on a Friday night or whether he is in fact ‘on duty’. I do not want to know and this is good because his job is not something he wants to talk about. I say that is fine with me given my particularly squeamish nature. ‘No,” he continues “I never talk about my job, when I close that door at 5.30, I leave my work behind,” Well that’s a fucking good job, Bill because bringing in some dead, old stiff that you’re currently tarting up into the bar with you could cause some people offence. As he says this he glances at his mobile clearly hoping that it will ring and summons him to some gory scene of death and disaster. I push the thought from my mind. “Fine by me,” I say. “Yes there are some people, particularly young people, who have a morbid curiosity about my job.”  “Well not me, Bill,” I say again. “They want to know how you stitch them up, pull them back together again, embalm them, make them look good.” Thank God Bill doesn’t want to talk about his job. His plate of wedgies have arrived but this does not stop Bill, oh no. I cannot stop looking at his hands as he pops the wedgies into his mouth, only hours earlier God knows what those fingers would have been doing or where they would have been doing it. “Have a wedgie,” Bill offers. You must be fucking joking. “No thanks I’ve already eaten,” I lie. In an effort to change the subject that Bill doesn’t want to talk about I ask him if he is going to watch the rugby tomorrow. “I certainly will,” he says,” I just have one job to finish tomorrow morning, when I’ve done her then I can settle down.” Great stuff Bill. I mean what do you say to a remark like this? What I say is, “so do you live close to the, er shop?” “I live on the premises,” Bill says. Yes, I thought you might, Bill. All I can say is thank God Bill doesn’t want to talk about his job. He continues “I moved from Pahiatua 10 years ago and the house and business were together.” I suppose this arrangement is not to everybody’s taste, kind of specialist set up you might say: 3 bedroom house with useful workroom at the back, suit necrophiliac, serial killer or undertaker. I consider running this witticism past Bill but decide against it and I needn’t have worried because Bill steams on oblivious, “and since then my business has boomed.” I am, I admit, slightly intrigued by this, does this mean that Palmy is a particularly dangerous place to live, is there something I should know about this town? But no, it turns out that because old people have stopped retiring to the country and now retire in town that there are more stiffs in Palmy than Pahiatua which is out in the country. “I saw it coming,” he says. I can imagine, he probably looked in the back room one day and thought fuck me we’re completely out of bodies I’d better move somewhere where they have bodies aplenty. I am running out of light-hearted conversation about dead people, I look at my watch and at Kate, silently thanking her for introducing me to Bill. I am waiting for Ellen, my silent prayer is answered, she arrives. I introduce her to Bill and before he can get going again I say we had better get going. We refuse Bill’s kind offer of his business card and I say the next time I need a shave I won’t give you a call. Ha ha. “Good Lord is that the time, we’ve got to go.”

Saturday 6th

After a week in one Kiwi institution today saw me take part in another. In this case it was rugby, the Bledisloe Cup between the All Blacks and Australia to be precise. Richard, a chap I play cricket with, got me two tickets so Kate and I went to the game while Ellen and Joe went shopping, something of a contradiction stereotype-wise but then Kate and I have always enjoyed watching sport together. We set off from Palmy at about 10 o’clock and 20 minutes later we were in Wellington, well I exaggerate slightly but we did go quickly, too quickly for my taste and Kiwi accident statistics but I was trying to follow Mark, another guy I play cricket with, another Kiwi whose whole personality seems to undergo fundamental change when he gets behind the wheel of a car. Against all the odds we arrived in Wellington with only one speeding fine to our credit. How much will this one be? We had two or three beers at the pub before the game and then took a bus to the ground. We were very grateful to Richard for getting us the tickets, he had got them through contacting all his rugby mates across North and South island, which explained why we were somewhat spread out around the ground. The only problem with where we sat as opposed to where they sat was that they had a roof and we did not. This might not be a problem normally but in this instance the Wellington weather decided that it would call in all those debts we had accumulated by never having been to Wellington when the weather was bad. So periodically it pissed it down. We got very wet, but not for us the polythene cladding that many a fashion conscious Kiwi sported this afternoon. The All Blacks were rampant thrashing Australia 43 -6 and it was one of those occasions that you were glad you were there, an event to look back on with affection, foul weather and all. Jonah scored a try right in front of us, the crack was good as Van the Man has said, we walked on the hallowed turf, truth be told the stadium is a shit hole, Maori have claimed it back and a new stadium is shortly to be built on the harbour front. We had more beers in the pub after the game and 3 sausage sandwiches. Still wet and cold we drove back home, the four of us, (Mick was playing football in Wanganui) just the four of us in the warm car, getting dry with the cold, star-lit night outside, not quite a magic moment but close. Joe, the little bastard started to give me a shoulder massage, an unparalleled act of spontaneous kindness but fitting with the moment. Even Ellen’s unintentional detour around the backstreets of Jonestown caused by coming off the motorway when she should have stayed on the motorway didn’t upset the bonhomie for too long. So we arrived home and Kate and Mick reunited and got stuck into arguing again, most of the way through Batman Returns. Thank God these magic moments don’t last too long or I actually might think that family life was a thing of beauty. Which, as tomorrow will prove, is not the case.

Sunday 7th

The last words I wrote in this diary were “I felt the weight of the teenage monster descend upon me.” Now it’s Sunday and the monster just departed for how long nobody knows. By departed I mean he has left home and gone to live with another family if he can find one to adopt him and to take to a life of street crime if not. Would this have happened back home or is it the dislocaturaltory effect of being in another country that has caused our domestic downfall? I do not know if back home, when told he was grounded for a week, he would have replied “no way” and walked out and I would have shouted after him “you leave this house now and you don’t come back.” Who knows, who knows. Mick and Kate have fallen out yet again they make Joe and I seem like we have a great relationship. This after Mick’s first team debut and after he has scored a goal. Mike B who I saw at the game called up to ask if there was anything they could do and this reduced Ellen to tears on the phone. If this sounds slightly jumbled that’s because it is. I met a woman at the football whose son had left home but he had come back, thus far Joe’s destination remains unknown. Is Kate treating Mick like shit? Never ever let God think you have got it sussed. Mick was probably feeling pretty pleased with himself after scoring the goal. I thought Joe and I were getting on OK after the shoulder massage, Just when you think things are at their best they get fucked up. Pee Wee has now gone lame and I have taken my first Zantac (for my stomach’s sake) in months. Not a good day thus far.

Appropriately there is an article on depression in The Star Times, I hadn’t read it until John Green, Joe’s football coach, drew my attention to it at the footy match by telling me he had read the a title and was definitely feeling depressed as a result. I told him all about external and internal locus of control which is what psychologists say when they mean that you have a choice in life, you can either let others fuck you up or you can do it to yourself, the important thing to remember when seeking to empower yourself is that you have a choice. The article is by psychologist Gwendoline Smith who, judging by her photo, must be the most depressed-looking psychologist ever. I suppose, to be fair, it must be difficult to strike am appropriate pose for a photograph which will go alongside an article on depression. She needs to get it right because she is promoting her book ‘Sharing the Load-what to do when someone you love is depressed.’ You don’t need a book for this ‘shoot the miserable bastards’ or if you’re feeling generous say look either you cheer up or I’m going to shoot you, you miserable bastard.’ So here we have Gwendoline, fingers and thumb of right hand pressed against her cheek trying to strike a serious, concerned but ‘l can help you pose’. She obviously cannot laugh or that might give the Impression that she is making loads of money from selling a book on depression. But Christ I wouldn’t go to this woman if I was feeling depressed unless of course the idea is to adopt a ‘so you think you’re depressed, well let me tell you, you were lucky I lived in a shoe box on the M I’ approach to therapy. Just to prove that she always looks like this Gwen has two identical photos with this article a large one at the side of the text and a smaller one buried in the text, you know like newspapers do. All this proves is that Gwendoline always looks depressed. Accompanying the article is the inevitable test yourself or your loved one for depression, the mere thought of completing the test makes me feel depressed, however I press on. Symptom 1: Loss of interest or pleasure in all activities once enjoyed. Nope, I still get a great deal of pleasure out of drinking and eating a lot. Symptom 2: Changes in weight or appetite. Nope I’m still the fat bastard I have always been, unless of course I have been depressed since I turned 22. Symptom 3: Changes in sleeping patterns (feeling depressed in the morning). Well of course I feel depressed in the morning I have to go to work and talk to people with loads of problems, wouldn’t this make on feel depressed, it certainly has Gwendoline. Symptom 4 : Fatigue or loss of energy. I can honestly say I have never had any energy to lose. Symptom 5: Feeling hopeless or worthless. Loss of self-confidence. Listen pal it’s those other silly bastards that are hopeless and worthless not moi. Symptom 6: irrational thinking (beliefs not based on reality, preoccupation with physical disease, constant feelings of inappropriate guilt). Yep, I’ll give you that one. Symptom 7: inability to concentrate, remember things or make decisions. I have absolutely no problem remembering whose round it is, unless it is mine, I do occasionally find it difficult to decide between a Steinlager and a Burton’s Creamy and sometimes I am not sure whether to have a plate of wedgies or not. So half a point. Symptom 8: Ongoing thoughts of death or suicide. Yep, I meet quite a lot of people who I would like to kill or who should by rights kill themselves. Symptom 9: Loss of sexual drive. Ha as powerful as it has ever been. Symptom 10: Feelings of sadness or irritability. Listen if you were surrounded by the people I’m surrounded by you’d feel irritable and sad. Stupid bloody question. Symptom 11: Restlessness or decreased activity, boredom. I’m bored with this questionnaire, so that’s another half a point making a score of two in all. How depressing, you need 4 points to ‘seek professional help’. And bear in mind I have completed this test at the time when I am most depressed. What surprises me most about this article is that it is ‘here’ at all. I bet as you sit in a traffic jam on the M25, read about the latest crime/economic housing, sporting statistics, that you thought that people in New Zealand didn’t get depressed. A paradise the other side of the world, isn’t that what you’ve heard? Well if this book sells, you’ll know you got it wrong won’t you.

Monday 8th

And so begins the second week of my holiday. Am I having a good time yet? My horoscope in The Star Times yesterday said ‘tomorrow may be difficult’. Given that horoscopes like to put the best possible construction on life, because if they don’t nobody will read them, this seems slightly ominous. So ‘tomorrow may be difficult’ probably means for God’s sake stay in bed, speak to no one and do nothing, only in this way will you make it through to Tuesday. Or even Wednesday when, the horoscope says, I have ‘to try to resolve that awkward issue’. Which awkward issue? This morning there seem to be a number, there is of course the on-going saga of teenager leaves home, or highs and lows, mostly lows of the Kate and Mick story and this morning Ellen and I added another by falling out about money, yet again. Ah bliss. But never mind because my horoscope also says that ‘whatever has been a source of question marks should have a brilliant finale on Saturday afternoon’. So perhaps I’ll just stay in bed until next weekend. Meanwhile the sun shines brilliantly outside our Kiwi window.

The day, not dull until this point, moved apace from here. I typed, partially catching up on last week and partially working through the events of the last couple of days in cathartic fashion. Walt Whitman said “O to be self-balanced for contingencies. To confront night, storms, hunger, ridicule, accidents, rebuffs, as trees and animals do.” Oh to be able to write about teenage children with a sense of humour, I reckon. My humour returned slowly, it was either that or have a heart attack. We went for a walk and I called in at the office and I got a cheque for $5,000 which made me feel better, helped my humour and perhaps proved my horoscope somewhat inaccurate. We went to the library. Mike B called to check on Joe and I was able to tell him that the eagle had landed home. Mick made the papers for yesterday’s sporting performance, so did The Wine Rack as a new business in town. When I asked Mike yesterday how business has progressed in the first couple of weeks he said slow. Apparently they need to take $500 a day and they have taken $200 so far, but it is early days yet. Ruapehu has erupted again in a major way throwing out rocks in the most violent eruption of the year, rocks 20 metres wide have been thrown out. Exciting stuff. On a lesser level, Smashy called and suggested a few beers tomorrow and then we had a curry that Ellen had made and we finished the evening singing our way through the Rolling Stones songbook I have just taken out of the library. Has normal service been resumed in the Galvins on Tour household?

Tuesday 9th

One of the things about living in New Zealand that the temporary visitor cannot help but notice is that it might actually not be called New Zealand at all. The PC name today is Aotearoa, the Maori name meaning ‘ land of the long white cloud’. 23 years ago Austin Mitchell described New Zealand as the Land of the Long Pink Cloud (or shroud depending on your point of view). Pink in this case indicating the socialist nature of the country. Austin describes the state as the ‘community in action rather than the remote abstraction it is elsewhere’. ‘The State will provide it (the community) with two clever tricks. Full employment eliminates both poverty and the fear of being out of work and endows the people with their casual independence. Family allowances, state housing and welfare benefits also help to provide a level below which it is difficult to fall.’ Well how times have changed. An article in yesterdays Evening Standard is headlined ‘Social Order Crumbling” A decade of social restructuring is the major cause of increasing dislocation within New Zealand society says Massey University social policy professor Ian Shirley (don’t call me Shirley)..the growing breakdown in New Zealand’s social order could be attributed directly to the destruction of the welfare state. And that breakdown was responsible for the increase in violent crimes and anti-social behaviour.. New Zealand was being split into a dual society of the rich and skilled and the poor and uneducated.. The social restructuring that had occurred over the last 12 years had created a welfare mess and a major social deficit that would haunt New Zealand society well into the 21st century.’ So if you are thinking of visiting the country it might be wise to delay your trip for maybe about 25 years. Richard Prebble’s book defends the opposite comer and gives the usual examples of the inefficiencies of state run bureaucracies that we are so familiar with in the UK. My opinion is that, allowing for the fact that we (that is the world) live in a Post-modernist, Alvin Toffleresque age (something I like to put in a conversation wherever possible or even if it is not possible), it may just be that, on the basis of absolutely no evidence at all, New Zealand has changed more than any other country in the world given where it was in the ’50s and where it is now heading. I hope it can handle it.

I think I can handle simple things like living in a post-modernist age but I cannot cope with my own family in this case, Kate. Walt Whitman never had teenage children. Kate had said that she and Mick would like to come out with us today but wouldn’t be ready until the afternoon in fact two o’clock to be precise although I cannot remember why this time particularly. Two o’ clock came and went and Kate was not ready and when I suggested it might be very bloody nice if she hurried up because the day was rapidly turning into night. She then took the hump about how I had spoken to her and said she couldn’t possibly go out with somebody who had just spoken to her in such a beastly manner. She couldn’t just go out as if nothing had happened. No, it didn’t matter that Mick still wanted to go out. I told her, in a well-balanced, caring sort of way that she was indeed a selfish, little shit on whom I had wasted practically the whole day. Kate, not easily intimidated, told me I was full of shit and then I left the house wondering what the chances were, if arrested for the murder of my children, of coming up before a judge who had teenage children himself. Unless Kiwi judges are different to British judges, not very high, so l decided to let them live, this time. So the sum total of today was a short walk round Ashurst park (it is called a domain but that really doesn’t make it anymore glamorous) before it got dark. Another precious day of my holiday in this all too short day, gone. I am very pleased to say that God took pity on me and that the day ended on a slightly brighter note with me meeting Smashy at The Railway for several beers. Perhaps what Walt needed was a local and a mate called Smashy who is always keen for a beer.

Wednesday 10th

God is still smiling. Ellen and I had a near perfect day, perhaps it was actually perfect. Having, we felt, pretty much wasted Monday and Tuesday of our precious holiday, having seen nothing of New Zealand other than the Ashurst Domain, we were determined to do some sight-seeing today. Because it was just the two of us we were able to get up and go just after 9. The only slight blemish on the morning was that we had to take Pee Wee to the hospital before leaving Palmy because he has gone lame now. With Pee Wee in good hands we borrowed another SES car but, as I pointed out to Ellen, it was awful slow compared with Pee Wee. This led Ellen to remark that she thought that Pee Wee and I were remarkably similar, frenetic, perky, temperamental and red in the face. I let this lie and concentrated on the beauty outside the window. We drove down to the town of Masterton along the East side of the Tararua Ranges. The sun was shining and the snow covered  peaks twinkled in the distance. We reached Masterton in under an hour and spent the rest of the morning looking round the shops for a few birthday presents for me. I only got one, which was ‘The 1996 New Zealand Yearbook’ but it was a nice one and I was happy with it.

Then we drove further south down to Martinborough, a small town, population of 1379 with two claims to fame, the first is that its streets are laid out in the shape of the Union Jack as homage to some English dude probably called Martin. The second is more interesting which is that it is the centre of the wine-producing area called, appropriately enough Martinborough which is located about 50 kilometres north east of Wellington. After exploring the town which took two and a half minutes we called in at the information bureau and a very helpful lady suggested a place to eat lunch. We found this place for lunch and it was sunny enough to sit out on the veranda and I ate chicken tarragon pancakes, Ellen had smoked salmon, we had pumpkin bread accompanied by a bottle of Australian Riesling which, given we were in the middle of one of New Zealand’s premier vine-growing areas, was a bit odd but they didn’t serve alcohol and we had not realised it was a bring your own, so this bottle was from the owner’s private cellar, I won’t tell anybody that it was stocked with Aussie wine. The wine was perfect, light and crisp, the food was delicious, the temperature perfect and in the distance we could see the snow-capped peaks of the mountains. Yep, perfection I’d say. Thus refreshed we set off on a tour of two of the vineyards Te Kairanga and Chiffney. The wine guide book describes this latter vineyard as run by Stan and Rosemary for the love of wine rather than profit. The book also says that Stan had a heart attack in 1993 and consequently has been ‘relegated’ to role of manager, ‘something he takes hard as a hands on person’. As this was the 1994 version of the book we weren’t at all sure whether the gent behind the counter was Stan or had he popped his clogs and been replaced by a recently-discovered brother. It was Stan, he turned out to be a Pom wearing a green bobble hat, originally from Surrey he had emigrated from Beirut in 1972. Before this he had been in Nigeria I think it was in both places he had been a vaccine scientist. Stan is not impressed with his description in the winebook and I vaguely consider whether I might precipitate a heart attack by having shown him the book, but he settles down and after a short while is chatting happily about wine-making m New Zealand. I do not know exactly how old he is now but working out how old his children are and if he began making wine in’72, he must have been well into his 50s when he began making wine with only his experience as a germ warfare expert behind him. I find that kind of change of heart, no pun intended at that late age very inspiring. Why perhaps even I might yet do something useful with my life rather than trying to put badly behaved children on the straight and narrow.

After the vineyards we drive down to the coast specifically to Cape Palliser which is the Southern most part of the North Island. It is remote and more like South Island than North Island. We come across a very large colony of sea lions and sit looking at them and they at us. They seem to be telling us to piss off in sealion. When we leave Ellen makes a noise like a sealion and says “goodbye’ sea lion.” What the hell do you do with somebody who tries to say goodbye to the sealions in sealion? We walk along the shore and Ellen now restored to her former self picks up Paua shells which are relatively rare and supposedly only found in New Zealand. They have a translucent blueness that is completely beyond my powers of description. Because she has tried hard to be normal I agree to take her to dinner and we drive back to the Martinborough Hotel and have a very nice, if slightly pretentious, dinner.

Thursday l1th

The first day back to work and a jolly tedious day it was too. Clearly God needed to use today to remind me that life wasn’t always perfect, as if I needed to know this. I have never been interested in the detail of how I do my job, I see myself more as the genius type for whom the broad conceptual brushstroke is more appropriate than the minutiae. Unfortunately today was a detail day, Not only that, we all had to go to Wanganui to get the detail. There was the usual breakdown in conversation with Eddie about whether he wanted a lift with Bill and I. Obviously the question do you want a lift? enters Eddie’s brain as ‘Eddie, could Jesus have survived in a Post-Modernist age?’ Bill and I waited for him but in the meantime he had apparently driven off in his own car. Bill and I were late as a result of waiting around but, given my enthusiasm for the day, I was actually quite grateful to Eddie’s idiosyncratic response to my apparently not so simple question. Glenice was leading the day and she soldiered on telling us about the new contract but even she was clearly flagging by the end of the day as she tried to turn over a transparent overhead to show us what was on the back. There wasn’t the same kind of hostility at this meeting as there had been at the first meeting in January but there wasn’t a tremendous amount of enthusiasm either. I said on Tuesday that I thought New Zealand had changed a lot over the last few years and like Britain the ‘helping’ professions, for example the Health Service, have been no exception to the notion that clients are now customers and we have to compete and become business oriented in order to do the job. Di very kindly made a note of all the current business-type jargon that wove its slightly weary way through the day. They are as follows – outcome focus; staff capability; human resource data base; nil base; capability gaps; effective relationship management; best practice protocols; strategic alliances; stake holders; external stakeholders; learners with entitlement; shaping up; business drivers; outcome orientation; service specific elements: standard templates; intervention duration, output classes, memorandum of understanding and chunked ( and we are not talking pineapples). All this interspersed with initials such as CYPS, ACC,CCS,. IHC, IYB, MOE, RHA, CHE, SES, YBS, IEP. Thank you Di for that, it has made today a great deal more meaningful. I hope it was good for you. Bill and I drove back this time with him at the wheel. We had followed a large truck for a long way and Bill said I’ve got a plan for getting rid of it, I hoped it wasn’t an Eddie type plan, it wasn’t, it involved stopping at pub for a few beers until the truck had gone.

I got home after 6 and decided that I had used all my neurons up for today so we would have a blobby evening watching TV. Unfortunately no respite here, no escapist fantasy only a programme about earthquakes to go alongside the one about volcanoes earlier in the year. It was the by now usual scenario when the big one comes, which it surely will, what will the effect be on the country and the folk in it? The programme focused mostly on Wellington and Christchurch which is only fair because in the last one it was Auckland that was going to be covered under 20 metres of volcanic ash. Well the rest of the country doesn’t escape completely. The big one will ‘relentlessly shake both cities, an earth-storm of destruction, crippling society and causing devastation up and down the country.’ So nothing to worry about there then. But wait there is more, ‘raw sewage will flood the streets, spill onto properties and into streams, it will be up to 2 years before people can flush toilets again.’ Jesus that could cause a lot of constipation. A quake of 7.5, for example, will kill, it is estimated a minimum of 230 if it occurs at night and between 280 to 500 or more in the daytime. It will not just be older buildings that have no earthquake strengthening that will collapse but so will many high rise buildings constructed in the ’60s, the programme tells us. Nor will you be able to take the injured to hospital because they will be amongst the first to collapse. People could be living in tents for several months afterwards. There will be quote ‘Far too few trying to save far too many’. No wonder the Manawatu Civil Defence building is one of the biggest and lowest buildings in Palmerston. Makes me bloody glad I live in a bungalow. Comforted by the fact that night time is safer than daytime we retire to our earthquake proof bunker also known as the bedroom.

Friday 12th

Well until about 2.30 actually on Saturday morning, I would have said that today was a fairly dull day, the kind of day that really taxes the imagination when trying to write something interesting about it. Until 2.30 the day was completely free of earthquakes. The day had a number of segments, the truancy meeting that some people couldn’t attend, the centre meeting which was dull even by our standards, the only interesting bit of it was that Adrian announced his resignation, not, he points out retirement. I couldn’t get over the slightly guilty feeling that I had somehow precipitated it, ridiculous of course but when you’re a Catholic, even a completely relapsed one, all guilt is possible. He’ll probably resign about the same time I leave for home always assuming that we don’t extend the excellent time we’re having here. You whingeing Pom you. I have a meeting with Glenice, ostensibly about the car which I cannot bring myself to make a decision about. Actually I have made a decision once, the white sedan but when I told Glenice she implied that she thought me an extremely boring bastard for making such a choice. This threw me into immediate and total confusion and I immediately changed my mind but to what I am not yet sure. Glenice has lent me her Telecom credit card, is this trust or what? The logic behind this illogical act is that by so doing I can sort out, by phone rather than by letter, whether there is a possibility of us extending out stay of another six months. There are so many complications to doing this that I honestly do not think it will be possible but at least I’ll kick the idea around, run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes it, kind of thing. Bill, Leo and I went for a few beers at The Railway which made for a refreshing change, this being the first time Leo had joined us since his wife died. While we were waiting for Leo to arrive Bill explained the party political spectrum here in New Zealand. We’ve been here seven months and this is the first conversation I have had about politics so you may guess that political commentary is not high on my agenda of things to write about. Given that this is election year and that this is the first time New Zealand will use proportional representation alongside a first-past-the-post system, no doubt even I will see fit to comment again but, for now, what I learned from Bill who wasn’t in truth certain of his facts, is that the spectrum from left to right is as follows: Alliance, Labour, United, National (the current party in power), New Zealand First and ACT. I don’t really care whether this is correct or not, it is enough detail for me at this point in time.

After the pub we visit a couple who have invited us for a meal, didn’t I mention we are vegetarians? he says lightly. They don’t drink a lot but at least they don’t inhibit us from doing so. They are the kind people who spend the whole of the evening telling us about Britain. My country, but then what do I know? By way of light relief we call in on the Behrens who happen to live in the same street, they are probably thoroughly pissed off at us descending on them at this late hour as they get ready for bed, on the other hand Mike is probably relived that it is not one of his desperate clients rapping on the door. So we are invited in and Mike beats me twice at pool despite the fact that I cheat by moving the balls around when he is not looking, or was he, and by taking half a dozen shots while he is out of the room. Some days there’s no way of cheating successfully. And so to bed for a good night’s sleep, right? No wrong actually, because at about 2.30 I was awoken by Ellen who said Mick and Kate were fighting, so up I got and so they were. It was 4 o’clock before I got back to bed. Spectacular stuff, God knows where it will all end. All I can say is thank God today wasn’t Friday the 13th.

Saturday 13th

I have very strong opinions about Raymond Chandler’s detective hero, Phillip Marlowe. Humphrey Bogart is always regarded as the archetypal Marlowe and to be fair he has had some good lines like in The Big Sleep, Lauren Bacall says ‘Tall aren’t you.” and Humphrey replies “I’m sorry I didn’t mean to be.” This is of course somewhat ironic because everybody knows that the last thing Humphrey was, was tall. This notwithstanding, if that is a word, in my view, Dick Powell’s Marlowe is infinitely superior for the simple reason that the director puts in a lot of Chandler’s dialogue as a voice over. For example, when Marlowe has been hit on the head and rendered unconscious, when most of us might, at the most, say ‘ouch’ and most probably nothing at all, Marlowe has the time to think the line “a dark pit opened at my feet and I was falling, falling, it seemed to have no bottom.” You can’t put those words in the mouth of Marlowe as he is unconscious but by putting them on the voice over you get them in very nicely. I mention this just to illustrate that know what of I speak when I talk of Marlowe. I have, in fact read every Marlowe book that Raymond Chandler has written several times over, this morning I am trying ‘Poodle Springs’ (not a very Marlowe title I wouldn’t have thought) which as I remember was either discovered partially written after his death or which he was actually working on when he died. It has been finished by Robert Parker and I remember at the time it got poor reviews. Right now it is doing the job of allowing me to escape from the troubles of this household. I am lying in bed reading ‘Poodle Springs’ looking for some escapism from last night and the pervading atmosphere of doom and gloom in the house. Time for another Walter Mitty fantasy about being Phillip Marlowe and wise-cracking my way through life’s little difficulties

The reality is that I am going out to work to support a bloody, ungrateful set of bastards (BUBs I believe they were called to the Falklands) and I don’t much feel like wise-cracking. I am paying money to be miserable, to keep these people in my house, under my roof in order to make me stressed and unhappy. Why am I doing all this? What should I do about it? Well I’ve finally moved out, I’ve left the house, admittedly only as far as the sleep-out ( a shed in the back garden) but at least somebody has made a futile gesture. We haven’t used the sleep-out at all thus far and given that part, at least, of the current tension levels is due to us all being on top of one another, I wonder why. Now I really do feel like an artist in a garret, I have constructed a table out of two of the cardboard boxes our stuff was shipped over from England in and a strip of packing wood. I have the radio-cassette, the old one lent by John and Maureen, which is currently bashing out in determined fashion jazz requests. There is a pile of clothes in one comer which we have never used that are steadily acquiring mildew, the remains of our old inflatable bed and a somewhat deflated me and that is it. It is not very cold but it is quite cool, I need a fire. As I type away feeling noble, as in prize for literature, I get the occasional visitor, Ellen to enquire whether I want any breakfast, it is about 1.30 I slept late on account of the counselling session at 4 o’clock and also because I couldn’t get in the living room with Mick being asleep, alone of course, on the floor. So that’s it, a minimalist existence at last and right now until I actually freeze to death it is quite pleasant and remote and a world away from the domestic troubles at 9 Gemini Avenue, well it’s 15 yards away at any rate. Actually freezing to death seems like quite a good option right now. Ellen visits me and her opening words are “have you farted?’ She has come to ask me about my birthday, what presents do I want because as she charmingly puts it “l don’t want to waste money on you.” She also asks me whether I want to eat out on Monday night and will it be the whole family or just us two. I point out calmly that if I wanted to spend time in the company of my family I wouldn’t be freezing to death out here. She takes my point I think.

How can the man who has nothing not find a birthday present. There should be some perfect little or even big present for me, a little message that God understands and wants me to cheer up. Peter, it’s been rough in many ways but from now on things will start to pick up, that sort of thing. But the trawl around the rapidly closing shops of Palmy on a Saturday afternoon didn’t work out that way. Unlike the UK, Kiwi shops like to close on Saturday afternoon even though retailers here are complaining about poor trading conditions, a strange business. So the whole trip was a) pressurised b) limited in its scope and ultimately depressing because I couldn’t find anything I wanted. My vague idea was that there is ‘out there’ a perfect momentoe of this time in our trip. It needs to be reasonably portable, not too expensive, fairly practical, have a Kiwi flavour to it. It wasn’t that we didn’t try, we really couldn’t find anything – new family, house are unfortunately out of the question, new car, I’m getting one, clothes, too predictable, fishing rod, good but I don’t really fish; new squash racket, I don’t use the one I’ve got; golf clubs, don’t be silly, balls, quite; subscription to something typically Kiwi, like a men’s drinking club, I do enough of that already; magazines, nice, but too impermanent; one of those metal vacuum flask, they look really nice but are expensive and we’ve already got an ordinary flask, travel mugs, now that would be sensible but they don’t seem to sell them here, unbelievable; a pen with a torch in the end of it so I can write in my diary all those ideas that come to me in the middle of the night, great idea pity they don’t exist; new lamp for my new writing den out in the sleep-out, good and sensible but feel the same about the lamp as about the tea-tray; CDs OK but didn’t move me other than a couple of old Bruce Springsteen albums which I’d play a couple of times and then they’d gather dust, a CD/cassette tower, I like but Ellen doesn’t, a Rimu tea tray, they’re nice but I don’t see why I should have a tray for my birthday that others will use, a guitar, too expensive and I’ve already borrowed a semi-decent one from Eddie, a pen, I lose them, a book well I’ve already got one and they are expensive, quite difficult to transport home and I’ll probably buy quite a few more as the year progresses. A calendar of New Zealand sights or a jigsaw of the country are possibilities, a cricket print, nice but unavailable, a pair of shoes, I like the Doc Martins but the English ones are hideously expensive and the Kiwi ones cheaper but not as nice but, at this stage, the most likely present.

Hell of a week, on Sunday Joe left home, on Monday he returned. I received my cheque for $5,000 which felt about the right kind of payment. On Tuesday I had a big fallout with Kate and then a lot of beers with Smashy. On Wednesday Ellen and I had a beautiful day. Thursday it was back to work with all the usual frustrations that brings. On Friday Kate and Mick fell out in a major way which lasted into Saturday, the same day when I am nearly 48 but couldn’t fund a suitable present. The peace process in Northern Ireland is in ruins and Gerry Adams is blaming the British Government, what a surprise.

Sunday 14th

Calling the UK always caries with it the possibility of some mini drama or other. Guilt, pride, envy, deceit, worry, anxiety are all standard aspects of the call back home. A few basic tips, don’t call when it is evening here and morning there, they have the potential of a brand new day, you’ve probably just had a shitty one, don’t sound in any way flat or self-pitying because people want you to be having a bad time, so practise lying in a happy sing-song voice before you start the call, keep pretending all through the dialling process and then don’t let it lapse throughout the conversation and remember they are looking for any sign of weakness, above all don’t call when it is a wet, winter’s Sunday night here and a sunny Sunday morning with plans for a barbecue in England. In fact if, like me, you don’t like Sundays, call on another day altogether. If necessary refuse to make any phone calls during the winter months here at all. Arrange for your phone to be out of order or disconnected until it’s summer here. Write letters by all means. Today’s call carried considerable potential for misery because I was calling three friends/colleagues to find out whether I was needed at home or whether it was possible to extend our stay here as Glenice would like. Any intelligent reader can clearly see in the train the events of last week why we would want to stay. One friend said blimey, a voice from the past, I said hang on we haven’t been gone that long and she replied well it’s been half a year, is that all it takes to become a voice from the past or is my reaction simply a measure of my over-stretched sensitivities? Ostensibly I am asking them about work and whether I run any great risk by staying away from the old country for another six months. Will others have taken over my patch? It’s rather like gang territory. We’re meant to be more civilised but it’s pretty much the same deal, can I hang onto to the territory I’ve gained, can I beat up those that have taken what is of course rightly mine? I must admit it is difficult for friends and colleagues to give me the answer I want. If I want to stay then I want them to tell me things are fine and I can stay away without risk to my precious working practices back home, but of course as soon as they say this, which is basically what they said then I immediately think well the bastards aren’t missing me at all and my work is so unimportant that anybody can do it and indeed apparently are doing it.

I’m reading this book called ‘how to deal with difficult people’. By far the most difficult person I have to deal with is myself. I admit I am not an easy person to deal with. Reading this book makes me inclined to the view that changing this is too bloody difficult, that’s what’s difficult. Chapter headings are: Understanding yourself, styles of behaviour, types of problem people, handling conflict, communicating effectively, saying no, dealing with complaints, coping with authority, being in authority, and a step by step guide to dealing with difficult people. Now that’s a lot to put right. I can’t even get past the first chapter, understanding yourself. As every body knows there are Type A and Type B personality types. Ideally you need to be a mixture of both but it quickly becomes obvious that I am a solid Type A chap – highly competitive, strong forceful personality (yes I bloody well have): does everything quickly, desires public recognition, easily angered by people and events. God, it’s so depressing I really can’t go any further, I’m a mess. As somebody extremely wise, although probably boring and smug, once said, be a sieve not a jug. Right now I reckon my jug is pretty clogged up. I feel pretty stressed and what’s more I have chosen to put myself in this position. All those phone calls last night I felt I heard the noise of doors shutting and I was powerless to stop them, it’s hard to get your toe in the door when it’s 13,000 miles away. All this is probably complete paranoid nonsense and I’m sure the friends and colleagues would be surprised to hear that this was the interpretation I put on these calls, but then they know me well so they probably aren’t surprised at all. That’s quite enough for today I’m going to bed.

Monday 15th

The big day, my birthday, can there be anything more poignant than celebrating your birthday in a foreign country? I have never had great birthdays, from the days of wrong presents as a child, to wet days spent in the tennis pavilion with my equally sad, male chums, when I was a teenager, to picnics as an adult when we forgot the corkscrew and in trying to push the cork into the bottle spraying it all over the roof of the car, somehow they’ve never quite worked. So after 47 of these most of which I can remember, I’ve grown to expect little from my birthday and this expectation serves me well today. First of all I am at work and, whilst everybody in the  office does their best to put me in the right mood, it all falls a way short of perfection. Inevitably on your birthday, particularly your 48th one, which is nearly 50, you have one or two of those mid-life crisis type doubts, where am I going? Why am I going wherever it is I’m going? Deciding to stay for longer even if it is only another 6 months somehow feels like a serious life choice, stay here and settle back and relax or go home and continue to try and compete in a bigger pool, do research, try to be famous, all that guff. I think I will just go home early and open my presents. Two pairs of socks, a tie, a pair of underpants, a pair of Doc Martens (probably even more expensive here than in the UK), 6 bottles of Steinlager, a T shirt, a book (already described), tracksuit bottoms and a torch, yes a torch for writing in the night without waking anybody up. As my birthday presents go they are pretty good and I am well pleased.

The day picks up even more in the evening when Ellen and I go out for a meal to Oscars, mention Oscars and a common reaction in Palmerston is ‘the gay bar’, well the chaps that run it probably are but personally I think there should be more gay men in the world because, on balance, if I may be permitted a bit of stereotyping, they are usually a lot more pleasant than straight men. And so it is tonight, we have an excellent meal, I have steak, which is not boring and Ellen has Cajun fish, which is usually a real disappointment but is pretty good here, we have a bottle of OZ Cab Sav, and the service is attentive but unfussy. Thank you, Michael. For some reason I am not entirely clear about I decided that I would round off the day by calling my boss in England tonight to see how she felt about me extending my stay here for another six months. Once again I was not sure what kind of response I wanted but what I got was a fairly unequivocal get yourself home lad, I can’t cover your schools and also your precious Positive Behaviour Service is about to go down the tubes. Well, clear enough and I must say it was a relief to have it said definitely. Both Ellen and I felt some sense of relief. The kids predictably have now definitely decided they want to stay. How very, very of them. The problem is that, whilst it is nice to have a decision made for you, I have now decided, knowing I cannot stay, that I want to stay as well.

Tuesday 16th

One of my best presents yesterday was the 1996 New Zealand Yearbook (the one at the start of this blog) . No doubt this will be an unending source of useless information For example, in 1993 a half pint of beer costs NZ$1.89 in New Zealand and NZ$2.09 in the UK., in 1994, 11 people were killed by ‘legal intervention by police’ and of the 600 people killed in road accidents in 1993, 3 were driving a vehicle described as ‘unknown’. I’m glad that life and death, at least other people’s, continues to be an unending source of interest because I am having a real crisis about continuing with this diary. I sometimes feel that I am writing about life instead of living it. My indecision about whether to continue or not was not helped by a letter from a friend back home to whom I had sent a copy of the month of May. I am sure she was trying to be constructive but I did not get the same unequivocally positive response about my ramblings as I did when I showed it to Di. What do you want from a friend? Unconditional admiration or realism? Well, personally I’ll take the unconditional admiration any time, but then that’s me Why bother with the book if it is causing you stress was her response. Did somebody say this to Shakespeare, Miller, Bennett, Pam Ayres

Began telling people at the office about my conversation with Beth last night, I was extremely disappointed when nobody threw themselves on the floor and begged me to stay. Glenice was genuinely upset but she just needs a warm body in the post. Telling people is my way of telling myself that something is going to happen. A year ago I was telling all my chums in England that we were going to New Zealand as a way of making sure we didn’t bottle out of it, now here we are telling everybody to make sure we stick with the decision that at the time brought us both some relief. It’s all too silly trying to plan life anyway, some of the best work to be set up in schools this week came about completely by accident. Another example of the silliness of this world was Di’s ex-husband who was so pissed he fell asleep at the wheel, he fell out was thrown clear before the car went over a cliff, the car was completely crushed, he lay unconscious on the road and was not run over by another car, when he recovered he prised his mobile from the wreck and summoned help, so what is the point of planning anything. As Ashley Brilliant put it “To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and. whatever you hit call it the target. ”

Wednesday 17th

Great scandal, Joe’s drama teacher has allegedly precipitated a serious drama by being discovered trying to persuade the boys to moon, all in the cause of art of course. The Catholic and Christian nature of the school stops just short of understanding this chap’s alleged sexual proclivities and you can see their point of view. It is not going to look good in the school brochure, here at St Fred’s we celebrate the special nature of the school which includes religion, sport, exam results and buggery. Nope, it just is not going to work. So the guy has been asked to leave and, as a result, the production of Grease has been postponed. Well that’s the theatre for you.

Thursday 18th

Well Serendipity, I went to another school this morning with the vague idea of trying to persuade them to join with me in some sort of scheme/project. I wasn’t sure what but, looking at how I want the next six months to develop, I know I would like to spend the time in some kind of project that would, in some way, benefit the school and give me a sense of leaving something behind. I started chatting to one of the basketball coaches at morning break and the behaviour of the basketball team came up. We were joined by Stuart, the school counsellor, and the conversation expanded into how can we use the motivational power of sport to turn out better-balanced, self-controlling, thoughtful, problem-solving human beings? We all agreed that sport did do this but it happened in a somewhat random, almost accidental way. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. We also talked about why was it that when Boys High turned out consistently winning teams in soccer, rugby, basketball etc. that so few of the boys went on to represent New Zealand at international level. Other ‘less successful’ schools at the school team level produced more All Blacks, Tall Blacks, All Whites and so on. Another point of discussion was why did relatively few Boys High students, who had been successful as schoolboy cricketers or hockey players, stop playing when they left school? So is sport about winning and producing successful teams or is it about playing a part in producing well-rounded human beings? Stuart told us about the dinner he had attended recently where the guest speaker had been an ex Boys High rugby coach, a man held in great esteem and with great charisma. The philosophy of this guy, who was now in his 70s, having retired from coaching about 10 years ago, was that rugby was an avenue through which he could develop well-rounded men who would contribute to society when they left school. His primary purpose was not about winning. In a country more devoted to sport than we are, where schools take the task seriously and where, because of the smallness of the population, there is a very real possibility of producing an international sportsman or woman, the whole of this discussion fascinated me. A insight into the Kiwi sporting pscyhe and one not usually available to a psychologist working in a British school. If this developed in the right way I could have a project that combined sport, psychology and the prevention of special needs in a manner that would be challenging for me and helpful for the school both in the short and long term. Sounds too good to be true and probably is, we’ll see.

In the afternoon I drove down to Levin a small town south of Palmerston with the intention of talking to the principals in the area and trying to market my services. I really am hopeless at this kind of thing. I reckon I came across so strong in my opinions of what they should be doing in their schools that I doubt if any of them will touch me with a 10 foot barge-pole. Another case of we’ll see.

Friday 19th

You see I don’t really ask much from life, it really doesn’t take a lot to make me happy. One thing that makes me happy is to get out of the office and do something rather than spending time reading or filling in forms like I have been this week. The great thing about getting out of the office here is that I am released into the beautiful New Zealand countryside. I am on probation admittedly, it is not complete freedom, I have to return but for a while at least I am allowed out. Getting out of the office in Leeds means driving round the crowded, terrace-lined streets, the only green being the odd front door and perhaps an occasional knackered privet hedge, here the country side is rolling, there are rivers which look clean in the distance are the ranges, sometimes tipped with snow or, as on this occasion, covered with white fluffy clouds, sometimes as I drive along the land drops away and surprise there is a surprise view, the roads are quite empty only the occasional aggressive Kiwi woman driver to break the peace and quiet. It does soothe the troubled breast. I have a couple of school visits and they go nicely too, the principals seem quite happy to use my time working on the kind of mini projects I really enjoy. There are more serendipitous moments, well it’s funny you should suggest that because I was just thinking much the same thing. So the day goes well. And so does the evening, I meet Bill (that’s Bill from work and his proper name rather Bill, the funeral director I met last week) after work at Orleans and we have a couple of drinks, I like doing this on a Friday after work. In the evening proper Ellen and I go round to Mike and Anne’s and we have a simple pleasant evening which involves two bottles of Californian Zinfandel bought from the Wine Rack (which should be patronized if you’re ever in Palmy), several pizzas from Pompei Pizza, a cat and a dog, a blazing fire and some easy company and gentle conversation. Yep, that’s all I ask in life. Let’s get home and into bed before something goes wrong.

Saturday 20th

I shall undoubtedly look back on these times and laugh, All five of us are in the house, as I am typing and was here first this inhibits the Milson three from putting on the TV so they sit and read my paper which I haven’t opened yet, bicker in that explosive way that seems like it might lead to massive violence at any moment, I would like to escape to the sleep-out but Ellen, probably fearing for her life, has asked me to stay so I sit and I type and I listen to Bach’s Violin Concertos.

In 1917, the same year that 3,700 New Zealanders were killed at the battle of Paschendale, 6 o’ clock closing was introduced in the pubs. This was a response to the strong prohibitionist movement formed as a result of public concern about excessive wine drinking in the country;. Not until 1967 were these licensing hours altered to a somewhat more generous 10 o’clock. Until recently New Zealand pubs were barn-like places from which women were banned. This afternoon in The Railway the normally fairly quiet backroom of the pub is a heaving mass, 200 or 300, of Kiwi humanity. The excuse for this re-creation of a past era in Kiwi drinking is of course a rugby match. As The Railway is one of the few bars in town with a large, good quality screen with SKY it is understandably popular. We are sitting at the colonel’s table although I have no idea who the colonel is nor do subsequent enquiries help much, who is the colonel? He’s the colonel, everybody knows the colonel etc. The game is a grind, South Africa score the only try but New Zealand win on penalties, I point out that it is like watching England and Scotland without the kicking of Rob Andrews, a comment that excites some pithy responses. I smile benignly because I know I have hit a sore spot and if I don’t smile very shortly I shall have a number of sore spots. Smashy and I drink a lot, some of which is free to handle club members, and some of which isn’t. It’s a fun afternoon punctuated by a very strange ritual which involves flying wedge attacks by our table (5 or 6 of us), yes the colonel’s table, on groups on other tables. Nobody seems to mind when a group of drunken blokes, myself included, hits them from behind, there seems to be some kind of rules of engagement because nobody gets hurt, or if they do they are too drunk to notice. Mostly it involves about 12 or so chaps scrumming down in the middle of the pub, cheered on by the rest of the crowd. The occasional thought, like what the hell am I doing? crosses my mind but then it is time to scrum down again. I suppose it would be unfair to say that if this was an English pub probably bottles, chairs, tables would be flying rather than the occasional beer mat, that is unfair, but I’ll say it anyway.

The day finishes on a more sober note when Ellen and I go round to Eddie and Ann’s for a meal, they have invited another English couple, a teacher from Leeds, her husband and daughter who are on exchange. The husband is out delivering pizzas, he has got a job to make some money because they cannot survive on her salary alone.

Sunday 21st

Just a typical Sunday, a drive in the countryside, it really is beautiful and we both agree that this will be one of the things, if not the thing about our time here, that we will miss most. This is real farming country, basic folk making a living from this green and pleasant land. I have a quick Walter Mitty fantasy about being a farmer. Of course you can’t live out in the countryside for ever, sooner or later you have to come to this cramped little house full of bloody kids. Tonight we are joined by two ladies from the neighbourhood watch, yes, they have them here in good old New Zealand. The reason for their visit is one burglary, a house two doors away, two stolen cars and a lot of youths making a noise last Friday night around our house. What they want to know is did we see anything and I guess, was Joe involved in any way? He had better not be. I turn again to the New Zealand Year Book for some information about burglaries.

And I’m afraid that is it, the rest of this month either disappeared or never got written. Nor did I keep writing this journal in this typed form although of course I did keep writing about the year in my own diary probably thinking I might type it all up when offered a publishing contract. I never was so never did. We carried on with our interesting Kiwi experience until March of the following year so we did extend it a bit but not six months. I think it got a little easier as we went along. Sure enough the kids did not want to leave. I’ll give the last word on this to my dear boy who said as we left – Dad, you were a shit for bringing me here and you’re an even bigger shit for taking me home. Thanks, son.

 

4 Comments

Comments are closed.

  1. Still the Lucky Few 7 months ago

    I love your writing, but since this is so long, I’ll read it in bits and pieces, and comment when I am done (next year?).

    • Author
      summerhouse 7 months ago

      Thanks look forward to your summary comment, I did wonder as I read it whether my writing had changed for good or bad

  2. Aaron Eagleton 7 months ago

    *I’m impressed, I must say. Really rarely do I encounter a blog that?s both educative and entertaining,

    • Author
      summerhouse 7 months ago

      One tries, one tries

©2017 The Summer House Years // Web Design in Leeds by Marketing Originals.

Log in with your credentials

Forgot your details?